Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: Joshua (Joshua 3:7)

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of Joshua:

Joshua 3:7

The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses."

The following was originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

Moses was a hard act to follow. After the tired old man breathed his last on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah overlooking the Promised Land, which he never quite made it to, the job of leading the Israelites on in fell to Joshua. Since the Promised Land was inhabited by a group of native Canaanite tribes who weren't about to give it up without an argument, the result was years of war at its crudest and most savage. And in the eyes of Joshua and his people, it wasn't just any old war. It was a holy war. It was Yahweh they were fighting for, because the land they were out to get, come hell or high water, was the land that centuries before, in Abraham's time, Yahweh had promised them so they could settle down in it and become a great nation and a blessing to all nations. Prisoners weren't supposed to be taken, and spoils weren't supposed to be divided, because Yahweh was the one they all belonged to. Ai, Jericho, Gibeon—cities fell like clay pigeons at Joshua's feet, and everything that would burn was put to the torch, and everything that wouldn't, like men, women, and children, was put to the sword. Holy wars are the unholiest kind.

The battle at Gibeon was one of the worst parts of it. Five Amorite kings were drawn up against the Israelites, and Joshua launched his attack just before dawn. His men leapt out of the mists with a terrible light in their eyes. There was a wild storm with hailstones as big as hand grenades. The Amorites panicked. The slaughter was on. It was a long, bloody massacre, and in order to have enough daylight to finish it by, Joshua fixed the sun with his stern military gaze and gave it his orders.

"Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon!" he said (Joshua 10:12), and because he was in command of the operation and because Yahweh was in command through him, the sun snapped to attention and kept shining till the job was done. It was the longest day on record, and when it was finally over, the ground was strewn with the dead, and the mutilated bodies of the five kings were hanging from five trees like meat in a butcher shop.

With one exception, there was nothing that Joshua hadn't been able to see in the prolonged and relentless light the sun had supplied him with. The one exception was that the God he was fighting for was the God of the Amorites too, whether they realized it or not. But Yahweh saw it and brooded over it and more than a thousand years later, through the mouth of his Anointed, spoke about it.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," he said (Matthew 5:4), and then he also blessed the peacemakers, so that even without any extra sunshine everybody would be able to see that peace is better than even the holiest wars, especially the kind of peace that not even a holy terror like Joshua can either give or take away.